By Michele E. Buttelman
Signal Staff Writer
The holiday season abounds with decorations, peppermint mocha lattes and tree lightings. It is also time to explore some of the unique markets and festivals around California.
California settings might not be as historic as the Christmas markets in Europe, but in California there’s a growing number of holiday markets as global interest increases.
Sadly, Southern California’s most authentic German Christmas Market in Alpine Village is no more. Alpine Village, a Torrance landmark for 55 years, closed in March after being sold for $43M.
However, as with all things California, you’ll find holiday markets and festivals with a special “California” feel as well.
What is a Christmas Market?
Christmas markets date to the Late Middle Ages in the German-speaking part of Europe and in many parts of the former Holy Roman Empire that included many eastern regions of France. They became a popular Advent custom during the Reformation era.
Dresden’s Striezelmarkt was first held in 1434 and one of the first true Christmas markets.
Popular attractions at the markets include the nativity scene, Zwetschgenmännle (figures made of decorated dried plums), carved nutcrackers, candied, toasted almonds, traditional Christmas cookies, Bratwurst and hot mulled wine.
Great Dickens Christmas Fair
Five weekends Nov. 18-Dec. 17 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Historic Cow Palace, 2600 Geneva Ave., Daly City 94014
Visit London at the historic Cow Palace Exhibition Halls. Enter the winding lanes of Victorian London and immerse yourself in a world of music halls, theaters, pubs, dance parties and charming shops overflowing with hand-made holiday treasures.
Enticing aromas of roasted chestnuts and hearty foods fill the air. Discover holiday revelry in this lamp-lit city brimming with hundreds of lively and colorful characters from the imagination of Charles Dickens, the pages of history and the often saucy world of the Victorian stage. The Dickens Fair is a San Francisco tradition since 1970.
Tickets: Adult ages 13 and up $45. Youth ages 5-12 $25. Children under 5 are free.
Cambria Christmas Market
Nov. 24-Dec. 23 5 p.m.-8:30 p.m.
Cambria Pines Lodge, 2905 Burton Drive, Cambria 93428
This pretty seaside town along Highway 1, just north of San Luis Obispo, offers an authentic, German-style Christmas market.
Visit open-air stalls selling handcrafted items from local artisans or imported German goods including glass-blown ornaments and authentic nutcrackers, as well as a traditional German biergarten with live music, fire pits and festive food including fresh baked goods and treats
It all takes place under a two million LED Christmas lights. Tickets are $15-$35, children under 5 are free.
Saturday, Dec. 2 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 3 11 a.m. -5 p.m.
Sacramento Turn Verein, 3349 J St., Sacramento, 95816
California’s capital offers a small two-day Christmas market every year that imitates the outdoor Christmas markets around Germany.
At the Sacramento Turn Verein Hall, there’s live Christmas music and booths selling everything you’d find at a German market including traditional arts and crafts, toasted almonds, mulled wine, stollen (a traditional fruit cake) and little figurines made out of dried plums.
Enjoy a Nuremberg sausage dinner and visit Santa Claus and the German Christkind (traditional gift bearer).
The event benefits multiple charities in the Sacramento area. Admission is $5, free for ages 15 and younger.
Solvang Julefest Makers Market
Wednesday, Dec. 6, 5 p.m.-7 p.m.
Solvang Park, 1630 Mission Drive, Solvang 93463
Julefest Makers Market has been named one of “12 of the Merriest Christmas Markets in the United States.” It is an open-air night market fashioned after traditional European Christmas markets and features crafters and local artisans offering one-of-a-kind holiday gift ideas, seasonal treats and more.
The holiday season Julefest runs Nov. 24-Jan. 6 in Solvang which offers visitors a slice of Danish culture year-round in the Santa Ynez Valley.
Highlights of Julefest activities include the Dec. 1 tree lighting, Dec. 2 Julefest Parade and the daily 10-minute light and music display on the hour each night. Light show times are 5 p.m., 6 p.m., 7 p.m., 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Be sure to participate in the city-wide hunt for the mischievous Solvang Nisser, Danish for “gnome.” The Nisser have hidden themselves throughout downtown Solvang. Visit the Solvang Visitor Center for a list of clues to the various hiding spots the Nisser frequents. Once you find each Nisser, head back to the Visitor Center to receive a special Solvang keepsake.
German Holiday Market Weihnachtsmarkt
Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Mountain View City Hall Plaza, 500 Castro St.,
Mountain View 94041
Thanks to volunteers from the German International School of Silicon Valley, the city of Mountain View puts on an annual one-day German Holiday Market.
Taking up a two-block area, this event offers kiddie rides, music and dance performances, a petting zoo, holiday crafts and Santa Claus.
Fuel up on giant pretzels, mulled wine and beer before shopping for traditional holiday gifts handcrafted in Germany. Find traditional German treats of the season, such as Lebkuchen, a soft-type of gingerbread cookie with nuts and spices and Stollen, as well as Haribo and chocolate Santas imported from Germany.
Friday, Dec. 1, 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 2, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Balboa Park, 1549 El Prado, San Diego 92101
The free December Nights event in San Diego’s sprawling Balboa Park grew from a smaller event first held in 1978.
This annual event transforms Balboa Park into a winter wonderland with spectacular lights and an enormous Christmas tree brought in from the Cuyamaca Mountains. There’s free entry into the museums and live concerts in the open-air Spreckels Organ Pavilion. The event features numerous vendors serving international food and drinks.